Teed off

FAIRFAX – The Fort Ridgely Golf Course is open for operation, but not for long.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is planning to close the nine-hole course later this year.

Despite the threat of closure, golfers continue to play the Fort Ridgely course. On Saturday, New Ulm residents Josh Portner and Adam Watson played an afternoon round. Portner expressed disappointment at the loss of the Fort Ridgely links, saying he usually plays a round there once every few weeks.

“It’s probably my favorite course,” said Watson. “It’s nice here, and there are not carts out here.”

The 2,739-yard, par-35 course first opened in 1927. It has long been a source for affordable golfing. The Fort Ridgely Park lists a weekday rate of $9 for nine holes or $14 for all day. Weekend and holiday rates are $13 for a round and $18 all day. Campers staying three or more nights could receive two all-day passes.

Finances are at the center of the decision to close the park.

“Our overarching goal is to ensure the sustainability of the Minnesota State Parks and Trails system into the future by better aligning services with demand,” said Deputy Director of the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division Phil Leversedge in a press release.

“The Fort Ridgely golf course is a high-cost operation with low use, so we believe the tax dollars going toward it could be put to better use, especially when there are five other courses within 30 miles, one of which is just three miles from the park, Leversedge said.

The DNR cited a nationwide decline in golfing.

Between 1998 and 2015 the number of rounds of golf played annually at Fort Ridgely State Park dropped from 6,300 to 2,600. The Parks and Trails Division has been evaluating park units to create efficiencies. The division will discontinue underutilized services in order to add capacity at units with heavy use.

At this time Fort Ridgely offers an amphitheater space and walking trails in addition to the historical interpretive center. But for many it was the golf course that made the park unique. The Fort Ridgely course is the only course run by the DNR as part of a state park system.

Chairman of Friends of Fort Ridgely John Fritsche said that he’s an avid historian rather than an avid golfer, but he feels the golf course is an important aspect of Fort Ridgely. “There are a number of things that make the park. … I know a lot of people who will not visit the park now,” he said.

Part of the outrage surrounding the decision to close is that the golf course was renovated by the DNR in 2006 at a cost of $1.5 million to the tax payers. This project included the installation of natural greens and an irrigation system.

Friends of Fort Ridgely have pledged to fight the closing of the golf course, but it is an uphill battle.

“This was all cut and dry before we heard of it,” said Fritsche. “I don’t know if we can change their mind.”

Friends of Fort Ridgely learned of the closing last week. The decision to close was made by the DNR prior to consulting with the Friends of Fort Ridgely or the general public.

The lack of transparency has raised questions over whether the DNR considered other options such as raising green fees. Many fans of the course have expressed a willingness to pay higher fees if necessary, said Fritsche.

Friends of Fort Ridgely remain committed to protesting the closure and are attempting to contact state legislators to assist. Those wishing to show support for the course are encouraged to tour the park and play the links.

The Fort Ridgely Golf Course is currently open to the public. The course features scenic vistas, wildlife and wildflowers in a natural setting. Golf carts are not permitted on the course to prevent disturbing the natural setting. The no carts rule allows the course to open earlier in the season without damaging the greens.

No official closing date has been announced.